It would have been too much to ask for Hollywood to give the Reagans their due in the forthcoming movie “The Butler.” You knew that going in. But either way, casting Jane Fonda in the role of Nancy Reagan was surely meant to push buttons, stir up controversy and generate interest in–and hence, profits for–the movie.
This being the reality, let me then push some other buttons.
The problem with casting Jane Fonda as former First Lady Nancy Reagan is not just that Fonda is nearly twenty years older right now than Mrs. Reagan was when she entered the White House in January of 1981, or that Fonda is at best a mediocre actress and that Nancy Davis was probably a better actress in her day.
Or that the best thing about Jane Fonda the actress is her last name, or that in the looks department, Nancy Reagan had, and probably will always have, Fonda beat hands down.
The problem goes far deeper than appearances. The very day Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, Jane Fonda was quoted as saying he was “a lousy actor and he’ll make a lousy president.” Reagan reciprocated the minimal respect.
Indeed, one would be hard pressed to think that Reagan would have approved of the casting of Fonda as his wife–since in a letter he wrote to William F. Buckley during his presidency, he called Fonda and her then-second husband, Tom Hayden, “traitors to their country.”
Reagan was being charitable. Fonda was not just a traitor to her country, she was also a traitor to humanity. “Hanoi Jane” cheered on the North Vietnamese, and like many on the left in America, was pleased about the downfall of the pro-American South Vietnam government.
As Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power, springing from Cambodia (which the left went crazy over when Nixon bombed it) millions died at the hands of that murderous communist regime in the “killing fields” and “reeducation camps.” Were Fonda and her comrades happy about the extermination by communist thugs of innocent civilians? There is no evidence they supported the genocide–but on the other hand, neither is there evidence they opposed it.
Silence equaled death.
And when the time came to show some compassion and help these people flee for their lives in hundreds of rickety boats, the American Left turned their backs on these helpless people because it didn’t comport with their political views. Adrift in the South China Sea, the “Boat People” were easy prey for Thai pirates who committed heinous acts of rape, pillage and murder against the defenseless Boat People.
George McGovern sniffed that Southeast Asian people should stay in Southeast Asia. Other liberals expressed similar indifference and Jimmy Carter, who had made human rights a theme of his presidency, dithered for a number of days before reluctantly allowing the Boat People into America.
One liberal who did show mettle was Joan Baez, who held free concerts across America to raise money for the Boat People. Baez, a thinking woman’s pacifist, didn’t hate America; she hated war. Fonda, on the other hand, supported the war being waged by the North Vietnamese and by extension, the communists in China and Moscow, against the United States.
Baez hated war, while Fonda reviled America. It doesn’t get more black and white than that. Baez later took out full page ads in American newspapers denouncing the human rights violations in Vietnam.
In response to Baez’s compassion, Fonda wrote a letter to her denouncing Baez for trying to help the people fleeing communist oppression. “Your actions only align you with the most narrow and negative elements in our country who continue to believe that Communism is worse than death.” This was a long time ago but that doesn’t make it any less true than “Hanoi Jane” participated in propaganda broadcasts aimed at undermining the morale of US military personnel.
There’s ill irony, then, that she’s now portraying Nancy Reagan. Fonda made a political cause of supporting the tormentors of the Vietnamese Boat People while Nancy Reagan and her husband were compassionately greeting these refugees in California as new Americans.
Eventually, about 800,000 of the one million who fled Vietnam made it to America.
Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan also greeted the American POWs–along with Richard Nixon and Ross Perot–kindly and warmly in California, as they were finally released. They both wept when told the stories of torture endured by the brave young American men. The young Americans’ time in captivity might have gone a tad better without Jane Fonda egging their captors on.
Diamonds and Rust indeed.
There is no evidence that Jane Fonda did anything except cause misery in other peoples’ lives when it comes to this difficult period of American history.
Meanwhile someday someone will write a very good book about Nancy Reagan and what she meant to her husband and, by extension, America. It was said that if Reagan had wanted to be a shoe salesman, she would have made sure he was the best shoe salesman in America. It just so happened he wanted to be president. This country is fortunate for him and for her pushing him.
She was tough in that White House and demanding on the political campaigns, but also kind and never gratuitously mean. Even today in retirement Mrs. Reagan still remembers birthdays and anniversaries, calls friends who have lost loved ones, and exhibits the class and style that she and President Reagan brought back to the White House.
They say that behind every successful man there is a great woman. No one seems to know the origin of the phrase, but it certainly seems to have been true for George Washington, for Franklin D. Roosevelt and for Ronald Reagan.
Mrs. Reagan doesn’t need to be portrayed in the movies, of course–although if it makes her happy, then mores the better. In any case, Nancy Reagan’s place in American history is secure. She did very well on a much larger and more important stage than one Hollywood film–whoever stars in it–can offer her.